Artificial Intelligence is already impacting every industry through automation and machine learning, bringing concerns that AI is on the fast track to replacing many jobs. But these fears aren't new, says Dan Jackson, director of Enterprise Technology at Crestron, a company that designs workplace technology.
"I'd argue this is no different than when we moved from an agricultural to an industrial economy at the turn of the last century. The percentage of people working in agriculture significantly decreased, and it was a big shift, but we still have plenty of jobs 100 years later," he says.
Anytime society experiences a major technological advancement, we need to be prepared for it to change the way we live and work. It's hard to imagine what the future of jobs will look like with AI, but that future exists. And optimists suggest that, like the sewing machine to the textile industry, AI will make us better, more efficient and faster workers.
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Overblown fears over AI
Antonis Papatsaras, PhD, AI expert and CTO at SpringCM, a contract and document management company, agrees that some concern is warranted, noting it's "consistent with historical reactions to innovation." Similar concerns were voiced during the Industrial Revolution, but they never held up -- instead of replacing jobs, humans were needed to operate the machinery.
"Time after time, we see jobs adapt and shift," he says.
Adam Compain, CEO of ClearMetal, a predictive logistics company, agrees that most fears around AI are disproportional, and -- if we're being honest -- based off movies and TV. Instead of focusing on the fictional "what-ifs" of AI, we should be building strategies to ensure AI doesn't negatively impact employment.
"Artificial Intelligence is named so because it replicates our own way of thinking and, particularly in the application of machine learning, it's a helpful aid in recognizing patterns, managing overwhelming complexity, and handling tasks far too tedious for us to understand," says Compain.
Experts agree that AI has the potential to eliminate mundane, administrative work, while we will always rely on human workers to be empathetic, collaborative, creative and strategic. But it's impact on any industry lies in the hands of the business leaders who are responsible for adopting AI strategies.
Tim Estes, CEO of Digital Reasoning, a cognitive computing company, says that "we cannot reasonably expect the jobs market to remain inflexible to a changing world." Instead, businesses who approach AI with an open mind and embrace the change will find ways to create new jobs, while those who "shun opportunity are most at risk."
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Training presents challenges
A recent study of 1,000 global companies by Accenture found that AI is already creating three new categories of jobs: trainers, explainers and sustainers. Trainers are the people who teach AI systems how to act -- whether it's language, human behavior or the intricacies of human interaction. Explainers are the liaison between technology and business leaders, providing more insight and clarity into machine learning for the non-tech workers. Sustainers are the workers required to maintain AI systems and troubleshoot any potential issues.
"Some jobs were highly technical and required advanced degrees, but other roles demanded innately human things such as empathy and interaction. Downstream jobs, such as those in sales, marketing, or service will change to take advantage of the insights from AI, but many of the core skills will remain," says Estes.
It might sound like any job related to AI will require years of technical knowledge, but that isn't the case. We've already seen a shift in tech hiring -- companies often need highly specific skill sets that are hard to find in potential candidates. As a result, more businesses are hiring employees with the right soft skills, and then training them in technical skills.
"This opens a new window of opportunity for a diverse and booming workforce, as many organizations don't necessarily require a college degree from their technical employees. If you onboard a person with a willingness to learn and an understanding of basic technology skills, you can train them on a multitude of systems and applications," says Papatsaras.
Papatsaras also expects to see an overall shift in the education system, where students will be trained from a young age on robotics and AI. It's already happening outside of the education system - games like Minecraft can help teach children the fundamentals of coding to kick start STEM education.
A measured approach to AI
The real takeaway is that any approach to AI will need to consider the human aspect of every business. AI has great potential to increase efficiency and accuracy and it's already been proven in certain industries.
For example, Estes points to the use of AI In banking to identify "rogue traders" and money laundering schemes. It's also improved healthcare by "increasing the speed and accuracy" of cancer diagnosistics. AI can also help reduce the cost and length of human trafficking investigations, a situation where time is precious.
In these examples, argues Estes, AI hasn't replaced jobs, but has positively impacted efficiency. Yet, he still cautions against complacency with AI.
"We need to ensure our education system responds to equip young people with the appropriate skills and adaptability, while businesses and public organizations must invest in training. Perhaps most of all, we need to encourage imagination and willingness to experiment. The organizations that can innovate with AI will reap the benefits. Their growth will make them the primary source of future jobs," he says.
Companies have a choice when implementing AI. They can choose to effectively implement systems that make employee's lives easier and find creative ways to leverage the technology, says Papatsaras. It's up to employers to ease fears for workers around AI and build strategies that benefit everyone.
"At the end of the day, as employers and employees, we need to figure this out. If we play our cards right, AI is here to lessen the burden in our lives and create what we all crave today -- a work-life balance," he says.